Love and Fiction in Philippe Garrel's Emergency Kisses

As I've understood him to be one of French independent cinema's more understated contemporary filmmakers, I first came across Philippe Garrel's work last year when I chanced upon his 1984 short film for the "Paris Vu Par..." series, Rue Fontaine (featuring a captivating performance by Jean-Pierre Léaud). But after experiencing Emergency Kisses (1989) last week, it is safe to say Garrel has me instantly captivated with his evocative, quiet drama. To briefly summarize the story, Garrel himself plays a film director, Mathieu, married to Jeanne, an actress (played by his real wife at the time, Brigitte Sy) who is distraught when Mathieu decides to cast another woman to play his wife in a movie based on his own marriage. Meta-commentary and extended improvised performances abound. The continued refusal to cast his real wife frustrates and angers Jeanne, throwing their marriage into disarray and uncertainty.

From what I have seen, Garrel's work is often fixated on the nature of maturing love. Beginning in the moment of Jeanne's introductory monologue, we are thrust into the delicate confusion of approaching the subjective understanding of a "love" one feels for another. Is it reasonable, and is it humiliating? Opening with this scene is arguably one of the most effective elements of the film, enabling us to understand the vacuum created by involuntary rejection that motivates the actions of the characters for the rest of the film. By objectifying the marriage with his project, either as a performance or exercise in filmmaking, Mathieu pushes questions concerning the essence of her marriage to the forefront of Jeanne's mind.

It is clear the ideas of affection this work engages with derive themselves from moments of doubt, which are ultimately resolved through subtle reaffirmation. The wife interprets what she believes are dismissive actions as perfunctory, relegating her to a lover without agency. The husband tries to escape the doubt he feels in his relationship, opting to confide in his father and wrestle with his considerably weak justifications. Once the elusive trust is outright broken by Jeanne's vengeful unfaithfulness, a new critical character comes to the forefront of the marital dispute: their innocent child son, played by his real son, a tiny Louis Garrel! Philippe Garrel is commenting on the essential role of children, whether they are aware of it or not, in fostering and repairing love within a marriage: together they are strong. Far from unique subject material, however Garrel's self-conscious efforts of portrayal and the minimalistic cinematography  certainly help elevate the film.

The brief, turbulent separation of the parents in the second act allows for each of them to reconsider the value in marriage because of the presence of their child. Mathieu and Jeanne both recognize what is at stake and realize their different understandings of marriage must be overcome in order to protect something far more precious. Despite their growth as characters, their final reconciliation, however pleasant, cannot fulfill any remaining gaps between their ideas of love. Questions regarding the reality of their relationship remain unanswered, suspended over their heads.

This investigation into one's own relationships feels deeply personal, especially in its smaller, more tender moments. The voicing of uncertainty evident in much of the dialogue paired with the relative minimalistic visual style help communicate this intimate nature to a great degree.  Ironically, under Garrel's microscope, the identity of the film seems almost dubious because of its unique blend of realism and fiction. Whether Emergency Kisses is indicative of his later works remains to be seen for me, but I am very excited by the prospect.

Emergency Kisses is available on DVD from Kino Lorber.

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By: Christophe Charre

Hi hello hey I run this blog. I write about movies... films... moving art... flicks? If you enjoyed what you read, feel free to continue perusing the blog.